One Way to Recession-Proof Education Investment? Work-based Learning


Despite budget cutbacks and headlines warning of Big Tech’s hiring slowdown, overall employer demand for technical skills is still on the rise and projected to grow, with job postings across technical sectors still twice as high than any other fields.

But many workers are struggling to access the opportunities that put these in-demand jobs within reach. COVID-19 has driven the skills gap even wider, with nearly six in 10 U.S. workers expressing that a lack of skills prevented them from applying for a job they wanted in the last two years and countless employers complaining of a labor shortage. Automation and digitization are accelerating, and millions of low wage workers are at risk for displacement.

Resolving the global training deficit is a massive and complex undertaking – and while significant, meaningful work is underway, it cannot be accomplished without wide-scale public and private sector collaboration. As rising inflation wears away personal disposable income, and the college debt crisis reaches new heights, it’s clear the onus cannot be on individual workers to bankroll solutions. Instead, for an industry known for cutting edge innovation, a tried and true model is emerging as an effective tool: apprenticeships.

General Assembly is no stranger to apprenticeships, having worked with Adobe to build the Adobe Digital Academy, a modern-day in-house tech apprenticeship program. We have also had the privilege of serving as a training provider for Interapt, an innovative technology services firm in Interapt that is changing the way that companies build pipelines of net-new diverse tech talent. We believe there is tremendous potential in this labor market to build on – and expand – the scope of these and other apprenticeship programs.

Why do Apprenticeships Work?

Apprenticeships are paid, full-time opportunities for companies to find new talent and workers to gain new skills. When done well, apprenticeship programs close opportunity gaps for diverse tech talent, drive higher workplace engagement and employee retention, and foster company loyalty. And for workers seeking a leap into a new field, there is less risk. Curriculum material is ensured to be job- relevant and there’s no need to sacrifice earnings.

“Above all, the principles of learning science demonstrate apprenticeships are uniquely suited to imbue participants with new skills,” said David Porcaro, VP of Learning and Innovation at General Assembly. “Observing professionals carrying out their work, and slowly beginning to integrate into tasks as new skills are picked up enables the process of ‘legitimate peripheral participation,’ which means learning skills on the periphery and slowly approaching the ‘center’ as mastery occurs.

“While seemingly innocuous, this progression creates the optimal context for effective learning by developing a bedrock of identity and community. Unlike a traditional classroom, apprenticeships are a door into an immersive culture of practitioner expertise that helps learners foster a sense of belonging, which makes learning easier. With the popularization of remote work and workplaces of increasing isolation, the impact of community cannot be overstated in terms of outcomes.”

Status quo hiring practices ultimately are not cost-efficient – companies are leaving critical positions unfilled for months, and then struggling to retain employees beyond a year once hired. By contrast, company-backed learning streamlines traditional hiring, uniting all phases of the job pipeline to create greater cohesion, from candidate selection and the job-relevance of learned material to quicker acclimation to company culture and a pathway to career satisfaction within a company long term.

“One of the most considerable challenges that businesses face in Kentucky (and in cities around the globe) is finding skilled talent for their high-tech roles,” says Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal. “It’s not enough just to acknowledge the skills gap we’re seeing in today’s labor market – we need increased buy-in from higher education institutions, businesses and industry partners in order to create new educational pathways and opportunities for our residents and our economy.”

Recommendations for Building a Stronger Apprenticeship Ecosystem

For companies considering the many benefits of apprenticeships, there are a few guidelines that are helpful to keep in mind before starting a new program. Additionally, Adobe developed a playbook for businesses looking to build their own in-house apprenticeship programs which has additional recommendations and best practices.

  • Start small. Launch pilot programs with a few apprentices to pressure-test the model.
  • Don’t work alone. Intermediaries, including local community colleges and training programs like General Assembly, can help to not only provide the requisite pre-apprenticeship training, but also handle much of the paperwork associated with registered apprenticeship programs.
  • Create organizational buy in at all levels. Apprenticeships are only successful when employers commit to a strong learning environment for apprentices which includes providing ongoing management and mentorship, fostering an inclusive work environment, engaging apprentices in meaningful and appropriate tasks, offering continued career exploration, and senior-level sponsorship. 
  • Secure input from technical recruiters. Ensure that the individuals making hiring decisions for roles that require specific specialized skills have had a chance to offer input on curriculum content and on-the-job training experiences.
  • Identify key roles for apprentices and key tasks for on the job learning. If tasks and responsibilities for these roles can be successfully completed by someone who was specifically trained to do those tasks, then degree requirements can set up artificial barriers to these opportunities. Evaluate four-year degree requirements and identify key tasks that can be met with on the job learning experiences that can directly align skills with expertise. 
  • Take a strategic approach. Apprenticeships shouldn’t be a quick fix, or a buzzword. Rather, businesses should think of them as a strategic way to address a range of challenges across the enterprise: from talent retention to the recruitment of employees from a more diverse range of backgrounds.

GA’s Approach to Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are a natural evolution of the coding bootcamp – marrying the talent services GA has long offered to employers and improving the financial calculus for students unable to afford a four-year degree. Our mission at GA has always been to build cultures of lifelong learning, whether helping learners to get the skills to break into an industry, or providing workers with new skills to pivot to the next phase of their careers. We’re more eager than ever to help companies find innovative ways to source and onboard talent while expanding the diversity of their technical teams.

As we grapple with the uncertainty of a global economy bordering on a potential downturn and a workforce in need of training to fuel tomorrow’s next wave of innovation, we’re inspired by the private sector’s interest to develop and support tools like the apprenticeship to foster a new generation of talent and are excited for our role to grow in this space in 2022 and beyond.

Disclaimer: General Assembly referred to their Bootcamps and Short Courses as “Immersive” and “Part-time” courses respectfully and you may see that reference in posts prior to 2023.